Predator-secreted sulfolipids induce defensive responses in C. elegans

Nat Commun. 2018 Mar 19;9(1):1128. doi: 10.1038/s41467-018-03333-6.


Animals respond to predators by altering their behavior and physiological states, but the underlying signaling mechanisms are poorly understood. Using the interactions between Caenorhabditis elegans and its predator, Pristionchus pacificus, we show that neuronal perception by C. elegans of a predator-specific molecular signature induces instantaneous escape behavior and a prolonged reduction in oviposition. Chemical analysis revealed this predator-specific signature to consist of a class of sulfolipids, produced by a biochemical pathway required for developing predacious behavior and specifically induced by starvation. These sulfolipids are detected by four pairs of C. elegans amphid sensory neurons that act redundantly and recruit cyclic nucleotide-gated (CNG) or transient receptor potential (TRP) channels to drive both escape and reduced oviposition. Functional homology of the delineated signaling pathways and abolishment of predator-evoked C. elegans responses by the anti-anxiety drug sertraline suggests a likely conserved or convergent strategy for managing predator threats.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Genetically Modified
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / genetics
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / parasitology*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / physiology*
  • Cyclic Nucleotide-Gated Cation Channels / physiology
  • Female
  • Lipids / chemistry
  • Lipids / physiology*
  • Oviposition / physiology
  • Predatory Behavior / drug effects
  • Predatory Behavior / physiology*
  • Rhabditida / pathogenicity
  • Rhabditida / physiology
  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Sensory Receptor Cells / physiology
  • Sertraline / pharmacology
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Transient Receptor Potential Channels / physiology
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / physiology


  • Cyclic Nucleotide-Gated Cation Channels
  • Lipids
  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors
  • Transient Receptor Potential Channels
  • sulfolipids
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid
  • Sertraline